The Fortuneteller’s Garden

A garden is so forward-looking that it resembles sometimes a family or a business enterprise.  I’ve even heard someone liken it to a crystal ball, making it surely unique.  Seeds are literally prophetic:  tiny crystal balls.  Within 12 to 18 months, you’ll have exactly what was foretold.  This makes gardeners a strong surviving force—we call it the “Burpee Army”.

Life is made up of gardenesque things:  nest eggs, shareholdings, seed money, hedge funds, college funds, ancestral roots and family trees.  Youth is soft and flower-like, maturity a great passion and fruition, and old age handsomely wrinkled and evocative.

At first glance, all is growth in a garden—there’s no thought of ripeness or harvest.  Sooner or later, mistakes occur. We sweep them aside quickly to start over.  Nutrition and above all steadfast care determine health and happiness—anything will grow.  A tiny grain will produce a weekly basket of produce; a large seed, sound root or stocky bulb—a bushel.

Risks?  In a word:  “weeds”.  In the household, the big weeds hold the most danger:  new furniture (fatal at most prices), the second or third car (especially a young adult’s), the longed-for appliance or luxury or replacements thereof, the “big deal”—be it land, second home or proverbial relative’s investment tip.  Do none of them.

The most precious essentials are often the very smallest:  toiletries, socks, a hat, scarf, a haircut, a new suit, dress or coat, the daily bill for utilities—no small matter—and building maintenance.  Bread and water.  Speaking of the latter,  I have a very good recommendation for those hooked on soft drinks, juice or anything else that, over time, costs a lot of money as well as wear and tear. Mix tap water half and half with club soda.  The dullness of the still and harshness of the carbonated are magically replaced by a perfectly balanced, infinitely refreshing drink.
I can also help you with cream and butter—don’t eat it.  Replace butter with a decent olive oil and a warmed breakfast baguette becomes interesting.  Drop the cream from your one cup of coffee or tea.  Don’t wimp out.  And drink “George’s Magic Water” until you think you’re going to float away.  You’ll be amazed how soon it becomes normal.  You’ll save money and live longer.  It’s the “raw vegetable” of breakfasts.

Our “crystal ball” here at Heronswood, The Cook’s Garden and Burpee illuminates the next year of about ten million gardeners.  Unfortunately for us I’m afraid, folks are cutting back their ornamental gardens, not replacing dead plants or filling bare spots.  Pardon the pun, but no new growth apart from existing plants.  I hope this is a mere pause. It’s a pity folks don’t have fresh beauty in their lives.  Flower gardens are an inexpensive grace, a cheap luxury.

In contrast, at Burpee and The Cook’s Garden, we’re awash with early orders of herb and vegetable seeds, transplants and fruit bushes.  Also, while many of the “high end” flowers are lower than expected, easy-to-grow cultivars that often decorate a vegetable garden—sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias and nasturtiums—are up.  Cutting gardens are almost as popular as vegetable patches, while petunias, begonias and impatiens—the large annuals and tender perennials that fill sculptured beds in the front yard—are even with last year, i.e., no increase.

My father told me that in the Great Depression most people had little or no money to spend.  Folks on the edge of society dropped off.  My grandmother kept extra soup for the hoboes who tramped by their nursery looking for work.  The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern (the “EJ ‘n’ E”) train tracks nearby bent sharply, so the trains would slow down and a few men would see the glass houses in the distance, jump off and climb the hill to the house.  Grandma would feed and eyeball them while Grandpa interviewed them.

It’s hard to imagine that this was less than four generations ago.  The horticultural “crystal ball” sees only about one or two years ahead.  But I’ve seen the future, and it’s millions of bumper crops of vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes and tall flowers, as well as a few thousand newly planted rare shrub and perennial borders scattered about like precious gems.  Saving is the new spending.  Dental care is the new decadence.  Food, clothing and shelter are the new priorities.  Vegetable gardens are the new swimming pools and hot tubs of tomorrow.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 at 5:38 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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50 Responses to “The Fortuneteller’s Garden”

  1. Wendy said:

    I did get rid of the swimming pool to extend my vegetable and flower beds but I’m not giving up the butter for olive oil. It’s not the same on good old toast.

  2. George said:

    Dear Wendy – Thank you for your comments. Congratulations on your landscaping. Please try Colavita Umbrian—hard to find but satisfying. Happy gardening.

  3. Mary A. Ruther said:

    I am so “with” you in the crystal ball fortune telling. How I love staying home and working the soil, even if some days it is only to stare at it.
    I have a peace about me, because I am handling seeds. Seeds are so life giving. What a blessing it is for me to have a small plant business. I feel truly honored that my Creator directed me on this path. Each day the spirit is with me, intimately working with me, to create a healthy plants to sell and to give to people for their nourishment. Scriptures tell us that “ye shall know them by their fruits”. I know my future is with my Creator, where I will learn so much more about plants and seeds; I plan to hopefully be within the crystal ball that foresees magnificent fruits, so I will be known to be of good cheer with my abundance of fruits. As The Fortune Teller’s Garden illustrates you to be a seer, you must realize how good it is for us who adore the Earth to read that of which you have foretold. Please keep us informed of those good things working within you. Thank you, as always, for a ingenious read.

  4. George said:

    Thanks much, Mary. You are the fortuneteller! I just help make the crystal balls.

  5. Donna B. said:


    The economic downturn I’ve envisioned has occurred. With it, Americans hopefully will go back to their roots..respecting the Earth, growing their own fresh fruits and vegetables, living within their means. I’m a Master Gardener and continue to educate the masses on good gardening practices. George, you to have your hands on the pulse of America. Victory Gardens will again become the rage…..out of necessity.

  6. George said:

    Thank you, Donna, for not only your kind post, but service as a Master Gardener. We need many more folks like you.

  7. Jean said:

    Please excuse my ignorance … what is “George’s Magic Water”?

    Thank you ….

  8. George said:

    Dear Jean – Thanks. I use ½ Fiji and ½ Perrier, but tap and club soda do fine when I’m budgeting. I got it from an Argentine couple, so it’s really not my creation.

  9. arielle said:

    Glad to hear that your grandparents helped the hobos rather then scorning or punishing them. We’re going to need that kind of compassionate attitude towards the impoverished as their numbers increase in this economic downturn. Let’s all try to keep that high standard for ourselves as times look scary.

  10. George said:

    Arielle – Thanks for your generous words. The “big one” had 25% unemployment in a society with no safety net. I hope we never get so close again. If we do, I hope you’re nearby.

  11. MaryF said:

    I like your advice on replacing butter and cream. Plant-derived foods provide superior nutrition to animal-derived ones, and they don’t cause animal suffering. There are marvelous alternatives to dairy products, such as your olive oil example. See, for example:

  12. George said:

    Dear Mary F – Thanks very much for helping us all with your link.

  13. Debra Cullen said:

    My seeds have germinated. Now my dining room table is filled with seedlings. I am doing my own plants from seeds this year to save money. My garden is already filled with bulbs and perennials my annuals are my fill ins for color. My gardens will be beautiful this year despite the depression we are living other. I shop for specials and fill my pantry to save money. I don’t know what the next months will bring. I am hoping for the best. I believe our new president will help to make things better. God bless him!!!!

  14. George said:

    Dear Debra – What a vivid scene of your dining room table! Thanks for the hope-filled message.

  15. nan said:

    I like reading your thoughts

  16. George said:

    Thank you for saying so, Nan.

  17. Rebecca said:

    I love the thought of people having to garden; instead of shopping, going to gyms, driving in their cars, rushing everywhere. Maybe we will actually invite our neighbors over more to share a meal. I’m looking forward to a shift, from the crazy rat race to the slow pace of growing a garden, enjoying watching our flowers blooming. Our parents and grandparents survived and so will we. We will become more creative and contemplative.

  18. George said:

    Perfectly stated; thank you very much, Rebecca.

  19. Sharon said:

    It almost sounded lyrical to hear it put to words. My life from early childhood ’til modern day has been filled with the hope and promise of what I planted: to be shared to eat or beauty for the eye to behold. A lesson learned from an earlier generation that wells from my heart and sole as if it were my own breath.

  20. George said:

    Wow, thanks, Sharon for your thoughtful message and the example of your life.

  21. John Drexel said:

    Mr. Ball (George),

    This is the very first e-mail response I have ever made to anyone about anything and I read alot. I read a lot, think a lot and try to convey what gems of wisdom I perceive to my four grown children. I look forward to reading your comments and was compelled to write, thank you and ask you to please continue. You are quite wise. I may think that because I agree with most of your writing. I have come to gardening late in life and am a better person for it. Your comments help me and indirectly help my children. No more could be asked of a friend.

  22. George said:

    Dear John – It is a blessing to have the chance to work here, and a privilege to serve folks like you. Thank you.

  23. Joyce Holzinger said:

    I so love your writings, it creates a peaceful pleasure. Gardening is my passion, my escape to peace & calm. I’ll be dividing perenials this year to save money & reestablishing my vegetable garden. I’ve not planted much for food for a couple of yrs, “Victory” gardens return. I’m glad I saved all my canning supplies despite being called a pack rat, they’ll be in use for many years to come. Thank you for your lovely writings !

  24. George said:

    You’re very welcome, Joyce. Your approach is pitch-perfect. Please boil the canning supplies an extra long time. Happy gardening!

  25. Wanda said:

    My dad born in 1903 was in his late 20s when the depression hit. He was the son of a Kansas farmer whose farm dried up and blew away. My dad told stories about “riding the rails” during those years and stopping along the way looking for work. He never asked for a handout but most people welcomed him to their table. In one house there were several chldren gathered at the meal. Grace was said and the mother brought out dinner, placing a bowl of potatoes in the center of the table. That’s all they had to eat, even for “company”.

  26. George said:

    Dear Wanda – Exactly so. Grandma had a potato-based soup. Sometimes beans. (My dad ended up hating beans.) She was a German immigrant from western Illinois. Potato and cabbage soup might have been invented by Germans. Thanks for the fine memory.

  27. Sue said:

    How very profound. ‘Things’ are just that, & they come & go as FADS say they if are popular ‘now’ or not. the true beauty of a nation is in it’s ability to forget about the ‘things’, & keep working the land as our fathers before us did. it’s time the pedulum swings back towards the best things in life, the satisfying things of home, garden,family & community.

  28. George said:

    Dear Sue – Thanks so much for this wisdom. Also, it is most important that children learn these priorities. I hope material suffering doesn’t occur, especially to the very young and very old.

  29. Sue Drummond said:

    We consider our gardens to be an investment, of our time and engergy and also of course the financial end as well, as each year we renew the beds with something new that caught our eye, repace the things that sadly didn’t make it, separate the especially vigorous, or move perennials from one bed to another, hoping that maybe a change of venue will make them happier.

    While we have both successes and failures, we know that our flowers have brought joy to our neighbors, and to passers-by who can’t help commenting on the gardens when they’re looking their best.

    The biggest success is at the end of a long day in the garden, tired and a little dirty, our lungs full of fresh air, and our hearts full of the simple joy of getting in the dirt.

  30. George said:

    Dear Sue – You should write this blog, absolutely. A beautiful statement. Thanks.

  31. suzanne said:

    Thank you for the gentle and heart-felt essay. Your poetic words has me thinking in new directions. Your message has hit a cord spinning a positive message in a dark moment in our history.

    My gardens, vegetable and ornamental, have always been my connection to a slower lifestyle. Also, equally – an artistic expression and a practical source for endless bouquets, organic produce and herbs. As Alice Water has said about hand grown food, “a life’s necessity, eating well is a human right.”

    My Midwestern thriftiness has had me seed-saving and splitting perennials in lieu of spending for years. Sharing and swapping seeds and plants with family, friends and neighbors is a fulfilling as the gardening itself.

    Our family’s new decadence will be spending endless early morning hours in our gardens. Teaching our daughter life lessons that can only be shone by example and personally experienced.

    We have no plans to expand our repertoire of perennials, shrubs or trees this upcoming garden season for we have been deeply effected by this economic downturn. Our indulgence will be in our spending time and energy. Luxuriating in disciple and hard work. Our reward will be taking more time out to share our harvest, bounty of flowers and new shoots.

    And in so doing, we will be richer for the experience and sleep well at night.

    Thank you again, you have deepened my resolve. May your business continue to grow and flourish.

  32. George said:

    Dear Suzanne – Very moving and greatly appreciated words. Happy gardening to you and yours.

  33. Kate said:

    Interesting, your paragraph on the Hobos. I have been doing a documentary on them and railriders for over 7 years now. I started with the few Depression era hobos that are left and rode the Highline across the United States, amongst other lines. They are a nomadic subculture and still exist. My railriding friends and my mother taught me the values you just commented on. Live life as simply as possible. You learn this when you are riding the freights, what you really need and how much to carry. I planted my first lettuce garden last year, this year, my first asparagus crowns go in. I have planted raspberries and would like to plant fruit trees. Most of the people who ride the rails saught employment, others just like to live free, having fought for us in wars. And some are just poets. But they are all Americans.

  34. George said:

    Dear Kate – Thanks for your fascinating post. You of all people would adore the book “Walls Rise Up” by George Sessions Perry. It’s about Texas and California hoboes. A bit fanciful but great. Any good library has it. And “Of Mice and Men” which is more serious. Good luck with your new garden.

  35. Pat Crane said:

    Beautifully written and interestingly thoughtful.
    Pat Crane

  36. George said:

    Thanks very much.

  37. Jean said:

    Dear Responders …. Does anyone know what “George’s Magic Water” is from this part of the blog: ‘And drink “George’s Magic Water” until you think you’re going to float away. You’ll be amazed how soon it becomes normal. You’ll save money and live longer. It’s the “raw vegetable” of breakfasts.’ Many thanks — I want to live longer ……

  38. George said:

    I hope your question got answered. Thanks.

  39. Jane latter said:

    I really enjoy the essays and agree with the idea of beginnings, for example, investments, as having a garden like quality. The perspective in these writngs is always interesting and thoughtful. Thank you for taking the time to comit your ideas for perspective.

  40. George said:

    Thanks much.

  41. Anne Burke said:

    For years I have encouraged (yes, and sometimes nagged) everyone to “go to ground”. In these economic times I am now sought after for help in gardening. Just next week I will be working with 5-year-olds to plant Miss Anne’s Redux Gardens which are half bushel baskets lined with newspaper (recycled), pine straw (recycled) and nice soil. We will plant seeds from vegetables we get from the grocery store (even dried beans). Two days after that I will be speaking at our local herb fest. I, like you, see gardening as the ultimate analogy of our lives, we live, we grow and we die, hopefully after being somewhat productive!

    Anne Burke

  42. George said:

    I adore the name of your basket gardens. My grandmother was a “Miss Anne” after she was widowed (a long time).

  43. Kathi said:

    Supurb website. Keep me on your ‘mailing’ list !!!

  44. George said:

    Thanks, Kathi.

  45. anne sereda said:

    What is George’s Magic Water I must have missed that. Thanks. Anne Sereda

  46. George said:

    Anne – Please see above. Thanks.

  47. Maggie said:

    Ingenuity is formost, in hard times, and
    it becomes more important to care and to share
    than to let greed replace need. Sometimes
    we need to be shaken to the roots to see the


  48. George said:

    Very nicely stated. Love the poetry! Thanks, Maggie.

  49. Wolters said:

    I received the following from my daughter after sharing the Fortunetellers Garden article. We did something right raising her! She makes us proud. Happy Spring!

    “I’m glad we are gardeners too…it feels like a vitally important
    connection to the earth and life itself. I’m loving checking out what is
    coming up already in the garden. I look everyday now.”

  50. George said:

    And a very happy spring season to you too, dear friend.

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